Today's Fair Shots - Tuesday, March 14th 2017

1-Bill Would Demand Parental Consent for Minors to Join Unions, But Not to Work in Sweatshops for Lousy Pay and Benefits

2-Wear an Extra Hard Hat: OSHA Is No Longer Announcing Fines Against Dangerous Workplaces

3-Dallas News: Texas AFT Rally Slams Vouchers as 'Sinful'

4-Bills to Ban Public Project Labor Agreements Completely Miss the Point

5-ULLCO Opposes Bill to 'Handcuff' Local Governments on Taxes

6-ULLCO Takes Other Positions on Bills

7-Uber, Which Is Trying to Write Legislation in Texas, Is Having a Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Year

8-Angle: Too Early to Know What Happens Next After Federal Panel Declares Texas Congressional Districts Invalid

9-CBO: 24 Million Americans Will Lose Health Coverage Under GOP Plan to 'Repeal and Replace' Affordable Care Act

1. A bill that would forbid unions in Texas from signing up minors without parental consent passed the Senate State Affairs Committee today.

   The United Labor Legislative Committee strongly OPPOSES SB 75 by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound.

   The bill turns history upside-down. The union movement was a prime driving force against child labor in our nation. Laws protecting young people from dangerous work and making education a top priority were in very large part the work of union activists going back to the years before the 20thCentury. Now, SB 75 suggests, perversely, we are the problem.

   Minors do not generally need parental permission to take a job in Texas. They do not need parental permission to work for poor pay, no benefits and in a potentially unsafe environment. But SB 75 would say they need parental permission to speak up together with workplace colleagues for a better deal.

   For those of you who are wondering, minors join unions in Texas. The United Food and Commercial Workers represents hundreds of youths who work in entry-level jobs in unionized Kroger supermarkets. Other unions have minors here and there.

   Anthony Elmo of United Food and Commercial Workers Local 100 eloquently stated the case against SB 75, testifying that young workers have had a home with UFCW and its predecessors since 1890, with the founding of the Retail Clerks Union. 

   "Yearly, UFCW expands economic freedom and provides opportunity for 16- and 17-year-old workers, who join our union as baggers and front-end clerks at union grocery stores in Dallas, Fort Worth and Houston," Elmo said. "Our young members enjoy the same workplace protections, competitive health insurance benefits and guaranteed work schedules that our adult members enjoy."

   "Yet SB 75 unfairly limits said freedom and opportunity by placing parental consent as a barrier to entry into our union. In comparison, young people over the age of 16 in Texas can secure employment, sign employee applications, start insurance payroll deductions, approve background checks and agree to drug-testing policies all without parental consent. If labor unions are required to gain parental consent, why not every employer as well?"

  Elmo also said under Texas law, when a minor signs up with a union, the contract is "voidable," meaning it may be canceled by the minor at any time. 

  Along those lines, Nelson said the inspiration for SB 75 was a complaint from a constituent whose daughter signed up with UFCW on the first day of the job. The father, who testified today, acknowledged that the union refunded all dues when the daughter changed her mind.

   "Our young union members enjoy the fruits of collective bargaining," Elmo said. "They overwhelmingly want union representation, strong protection from sexual and management harassment, competitive benefits, scholarship and training opportunities, members-only discounts and the solidarity inherent in joining a labor union."

   Texas AFL-CIO Legislative Director René Lara joined Brother Elmo in opposing the bill, saying, "Our position is simple: If underage workers can gain employment and a business can hire them without parental consent, they should be able to join a union of their peers."

   The full Senate will consider SB 75.

2) Under the Trump White House, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration is no longer sending out news releases when a company is fined for maintaining dangerous working conditions that may lead to loss of life, The New York Times reports.

   The notoriety generated by OSHA fines has been a primary tool for improving workplace safety, especially in companies that do not have labor unions to demand safety procedures. 

   This is not the action of an administration that wants to safeguard working people:

  Even as the Labor Department awaits confirmation of a new secretary, officials say enforcement actions are moving forward against companies accused of violating workplace safety rules.

  There is just one issue: The public isn't likely to know much about them.

  In a sharp break with the past, the department has stopped publicizing fines against companies. As of Monday, seven weeks after the inauguration of President Trump, the department had yet to post a single news release about an enforcement fine.

  By contrast, the Obama administration saw the announcements - essentially publicly shaming companies - as a major tool in its workplace safety enforcement. It issued an average of about 460 news releases annually about fines and other enforcement actions, said Eric Conn, a lawyer in Washington who tracks such cases.

  "The reason you do news releases is to influence other employers" to clean up their acts, said David Michaels, who was an administrator of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the agency within the Labor Department that oversees workplace safety, during much of the Obama administration.

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3) Texas AFT held a large Capitol rally today to push for legislation that helps public schoolchildren, a task that included blasting proposed private school vouchers.

   As the Dallas Morning News reports, such vouchers, which would steer tax dollars toward unaccountable private schools, were called "sinful" by teachers and pastors alike:

   "It is a sin before God," Charles Foster Johnson led hundreds in chanting, "to make commodities out of our children and to make markets out of our classrooms."

   Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and GOP Senate leaders would harm public schools and impermissibly lend government support to religion if their self-styled "school choice" bill becomes law, Johnson warned...

  "Generally, the House of Representatives is holding firm," he said to teachers and school district employees who used the first day of spring break to travel to Austin for a lobby day. In the House, Democrats and rural Republicans traditionally have blocked voucher-like proposals.

  "But brothers and sisters, our Senate members need a lot of help from you," said Johnson, a Fort Worth-based Baptist pastor who heads Pastors for Texas Children. It is a group of about 1,000 pastors, rabbis and imams who work to support public schools.

  Johnson and John Ogletree, pastor of First Metropolitan Baptist in Houston, echoed criticisms of the Senate's voucher bill by presidents of several AFT locals and Celina Moreno, a lawyer for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund...

  At Monday's anti-voucher rally, Zeph Capo, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers, countered that "a $4,000 voucher is nothing but a tax break for those that can already afford it."

  He and Louis Malfaro, president of the Texas AFT, urged educators to be active in Senate primaries next year. The chamber's priorities are badly skewed, they said.

  "There's too much talking about bathrooms and not enough talk about early childhood education," said Malfaro, a former Austin elementary school teacher. "This so-called civil right is a choice for private schools, not a choice for parents [and] students."

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4) This week, House and Senate committees will each hear measures aimed at preventing state or local government from entering into Project Labor Agreements, which improve the quality of complex construction projects while paying fair wages and benefits to workers.

  SB 452 by Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, is set for hearing 8 a.m. Tuesday in the Senate Business and Commerce Committee, meeting in Room E1.016. HB 648 by Rep. Tan Parker, R-Flower Mound, will be heard in the House Economic and Small Business Development Committee at 8 a.m. Thursday, in Room E2.010.

  The United Labor Legislative Committee OPPOSES both bills.

  A PLA is an arrangement in which a general contractor agrees to negotiated terms for all work on a complex project. It does not mean all workers are union, but non-union subcontractors pay negotiated union wages and benefits for the duration of a project. 

  In exchange, the general contractor gets an assurance that work will be continuous and will very likely come in on time and under budget. That has been the track record. Public PLAs benefit everyone involved, including construction companies, working people, taxpayers and all people who use the schools, roads and bridges that result.

  A PLA saved the South Texas Project nuclear power plant after it went years over deadline and billions of dollars over its original budget. In another relevant private-sector example, the Texas AFL-CIO building renovation was performed very successfully under a PLA.

  Now here's the rub: Although PLAs could benefit taxpayers in many circumstances, there has never been a public PLA in Texas. The bills are seeking to eliminate all possibility of something that does not exist and cannot ever exist in the future without a governmental entity's agreement. 

  These bills are in the growing category of a solution in search of a problem.

5) Another bill seeking to "reform" the property tax system is up for hearing today.

   ULLCO today OPPOSED SB 2 by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, which would strangle local government budgets while providing only token tax relief for the vast majority of Texans. The bill will be heard by the Senate Finance Committee at 8 a.m. Tuesday, in Room E1.036.

   The big picture is that for years, the Legislature has not kept up with the needs of public schools, universities, health care and other fundamental programs, forcing cities and counties to fill some of the vacuum. For example, the school property tax has taken more and more of the responsibility for funding public schools in Texas while state funds take less and less. 

   In a column in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams said the measure would "handcuff" the ability of cities to serve their residents:

   Senate Bill 2 is being promoted in Austin as a property tax relief bill, but its effect will be far different. 

  It will impose a ceiling on the quality of life of people in cities across Texas, limiting our ability to maintain or improve public safety, streets and economic development. 

  And it won't even provide any significant tax relief . The most it could save the average Arlington homeowner would be less than $1.50 per month. And at what price?...

  From 2012 to 2017, the state's share of funding for public education fell from 46 percent to 41 percent. The Legislature uses that savings to fund other areas of its budget, leaving school districts to meet their own needs.

  Real property tax relief will require the Legislature to fix and fund the broken school finance system, not come into our communities and tell us how many police officers we should hire, how many potholes we can fix or how to recruit companies to Arlington.

  The Legislature must find a real solution to the property tax burden instead of handcuffing city councils, hurting Texans' quality of life and failing to achieve meaningful tax relief. 

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6) ULLCO also:

  ENDORSED HB 265 by Rep. Ana Hernandez, D-Houston (companion is SB 935 by Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola), which would add a retiree to the board that governs the Employees Retirement System of Texas.

  OPPOSED SB 99 by Sen. Bob Hall, R-Canton, which would abolish the Music, Film, Television, and Multimedia Office in the office of the governor and other incentives for media productions. Texas is already losing out to other states in film production, even occasionally when scripts call for a Texas setting. That affects our Brothers and Sisters in the International Association of Theatrical and Stage Employees, as well as other workers in entertainment-related unions.

  OPPOSED SB 113 by Sen. Don Huffines, R-Dallas (companion is HB 3931 by Rep. Matt Schaefer, R-Tyler), SB 176 by Sen. Charles Schwertner, R-Georgetown, and SB 361 by Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, all of which would remove from cities regulatory authority over transportation network companies like Uber and Lyft. Those companies sought to impose their own regulatory regime in Austin, but their proposal to overturn a City Council ordinance was resoundingly defeated by voters.

7) Speaking of Uber, the giant company driving legislation to supersede the ability of cities to make ride-sharing safer has earned a run of highly unflattering publicity in recent weeks, as summarized in this article in the American Prospect:

  The first Uber scandal came about as a result of the Trump administration's ban on Muslim immigrants in late January. In New York City, a taxi strike was launched by Muslim taxi drivers as a protest against the ban. Uber announced that it would suspend "price surging" in the immediate area, which effectively lowered its prices.

  Suddenly Uber found itself in the middle of a firestorm, accused of trying to break the taxi driver strike. Uber denied that was its motivation, but nevertheless thousands of social media users began deleting the Uber app, and the tweet #DeleteUber began trending worldwide (an estimated 200,000 users canned the app). One scathing tweet said, "You tried to profit off a strike against an unconstitutional immigration ban. See you in scab hell, assholes."

  With February only came more scandal. Jarring headlines resulted from a sexual harassment claim by a former female Uber employee, with startling revelations about Uber's sexist bro-culture. That was quickly followed by news of a lawsuit filed by Google in which it accused Uber of stealing trade secrets regarding self-driving technology.

  As if January and February weren't bad enough, early March already has produced more scandal. The New York Times, which reportedly has made contact with several whistleblowers of current and former Uber employees, reported that Uber has developed secret software that has allowed it to evade local authorities. Called "Greyball," the technology was used to assist Uber drivers in canceling any rides for city officials who might be part of a sting operation trying to enforce local laws. After being caught red-handed, Uber now says it will cease using this tool for this purpose, but much damage has been done to its reputation.

  Perhaps feeling the heat of these mounting scandals, CEO Travis Kalanick recently lost his cool with an Uber driver, who told Kalanick  "I lost $97,000 because of you. I'm bankrupt because of you." Kalanick reacted with scorn, and the exchange was captured on video, which went viral.

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8) Our friend Matt Angle of the Lone Star Project offers a concise, forward-looking explanation of an epic federal court ruling released Friday evening that declares several congressional districts in Texas in violation of the federal Voting Rights Act and Constitution.

  As Angle suggests, we don't know how this will end up. But maybe the ruling is a first step in remedying a gerrymander that, for example, left solidly Democratic Travis County without an anchor district. As a result, five of the six lawmakers who represent part of Travis County are Republican, and the sixth, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, has a district that is anchored in San Antonio.

  Also in the sights of the three-judge panel: districts represented by U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-San Antonio, and U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi.

  The 2-1 opinion was written by U.S. District Judge Orlando Garcia, a former state representative from San Antonio. Garcia was joined by U.S. District Judge Xavier Rodriguez, a former Justice on the Texas Supreme Court and an appointed of George W. Bush:

  Yesterday evening, the three-judge Federal District Court in San Antonio with jurisdiction over the long-pending Texas congressional redistricting case issued a 2 to 1 ruling that the congressional district map enacted by Texas Republican leaders in 2011 discriminates against Hispanic and African American Texans and was adopted with discriminatory intent.

  The finding of discriminatory intent is especially important because it opens the possibility that the court will put Texas back under a pre-clearance review process requiring that maps drawn in the future be reviewed for constitutional and voting rights violations prior to being used in elections. 

  While the 2011 map was blocked for use in elections by earlier court rulings, many of its features, particularly in the Austin/South Texas/Border region, were retained in the current map and will have to be changed significantly by the Legislature or, if it doesn't repair the violations, by the court itself after a remedy is ordered.

  The court singled out violations in the Corpus Christi region involving District 27 (Farenthold - R), in the South Texas/Border region involving District 23 (Hurd - R) and in the Austin to San Antonio region involving District 35 (Doggett - D).  The Court also ruled that minority voters in the Dallas/Fort Worth area were illegally cracked under the 2011 map.

  While it is too early to know exactly what changes will be made, it is fair to read the opinion as requiring that Hispanic voters put into Anglo-controlled CD27 in the current map must be returned to an effective Hispanic district, that Hispanic voting strength weakened in District 23 must be restored, and that District 35 in the Austin to San Antonio corridor will have to be modified to reunite minority voters in a far less fragmented district centered in Austin.

  In Dallas/Fort Worth, the creation of District 33 (Veasey - D) in the current map may have resolved some of the blatant violations under the 2011 map; however, arguments will be made to repair remaining cracked Hispanic and African American neighborhoods in Dallas and Tarrant counties.

  The ruling is a major victory for minority citizens and their advocates before the court.  Minority advocacy groups including LULAC, NAACP, the Mexican American Legislative Caucus and citizen plaintiff groups led by Congressman Marc Veasey and State Representative Eddie Rodriguez had the courage to challenge the GOP map and the tenacity to stay with a long and difficult court battle.  Their efforts have defended and protected the voting rights of thousands of otherwise disenfranchised Texas citizens.  The Lone Star Project has been engaged in the Texas redistricting battle from the onset and will continue to provide support to key plaintiffs in this important effort.

  We should expect the San Antonio Court to schedule a hearing soon to discuss the additional deliberations needed to fully resolve the case and to reach a final remedy.  It is also likely that Governor Greg Abbott will refuse to give up Texas GOP efforts to protect a discriminatory redistricting process and will direct state attorneys to explore appeal options.

9) The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office estimates that 24 million Americans would lose their health coverage in the next 10 years if the Affordable Care Act is replaced by the House Republican plan. Fourteen million of those losses would come in the first year.

   The Affordable Care Act halved the number of uninsured Americans. TrumpCare would place the nation nearly back to the dismal starting line before ACA won approval, under the CBO numbers.

   No wonder the GOP has been rushing this death bill through committees:

   The House Republican plan to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act would raise the number of people without health insurance by 24 million within a decade, but would trim $337 billion from the federal deficit over that time, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said on Monday.

  Republicans had been bracing for what was almost certain to be a bleak accounting of the legislation's projected effects. The American Health Care Act, as Republicans call their bill, was already facing widespread criticism from providers of health care, some conservatives, and a united Democratic Party. The numbers released Monday will make only it more difficult for Republicans to explain why their legislation would bring positive change to the country's health care system.

  In recent days, Democrats had criticized Republicans for pushing the health care bill through two House committees last week before the Congressional Budget Office had weighed in, saying it was irresponsible to begin considering legislation without a firm grip on its potential costs and ramifications.

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